Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wisconsin, talks about this in his WTF interview, and he’s far from alone. Traditionally, cities and their economic development agencies will attempt to entice corporations to locate new factories or relocate headquarters, often with generous tax incentives that yield arguably dubious returns on investment. Soglin’s home state was recently in the headlines after offering as much as $3 billion in incentives to Chinese electronics supplier Foxconn. Some say the incentives are the only way to win over executives and their boards. Others argue that such incentives are often inflated and come at the expense of programs that could help companies grow organically within a city or state.
The idea, of course, is that if jobs are created, people will relocate for them. Ironically, one of the chief concerns of companies undergoing a site-selection process is availability of a talented workforce.
But Americans are moving less, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which notes that mobility is at an all-time low. Only 11.2 percent of Americans moved in 2016. While a typical American will move about 11 times in their life, fully half will live their entire lives in their birth state. As the economy shifts and jobs find new hubs away from traditional centers of manufacturing strength, it can become more difficult for cities or states to ensure a quality, skills-matched workforce.
Livability.com floated an idea similar to the question economist Lawrence Yun asks elsewhere in this report, but instead focused on incentives for individuals to relocate. Working with Ipsos, Livability asked Americans what sort of incentives would increase the likelihood they would move across state lines.
A range of incentives were offered, including property tax breaks in the new community, employer-funded moving expenses, and income boosts, which were tested at two different levels. The hypothetical study found that incentives could indeed have an impact on someone’s willingness to relocate for a job, and that the bigger the incentives, the more likely people are to consider the move.
This, like Dr. Yun’s question about resident incentives in development, was meant to stoke discussion. Could cities or other local governments spur greater levels of mobility simply by offering employees a financial bonus of some sort to offset the costs (fiscal and emotional) of moving? Could developers help solve the affordable housing crisis in many of our cities by giving residents something in return for putting up with a project being built in their community?
Each idea is a novel approach to an existing economic problem. Based on the data from Livability.com and Dr. Yun’s questions, the early signs point toward each having potential to change the game